WE’VE BEEN TAUGHT at an early age to whisper when visiting a library. But there’s nothing hush-hush about this polished 1,800-square-foot vault of periodicals. Although you can’t see them, nearly 40 speaker drivers and subwoofers rattle the rafters when the owner presses the SHOWTIME button on the screen of a custom-tailored Crestron touchpanel. The command also signals a mechanism to slowly lift an heirloom tapestry from the wall, revealing a 120-inch-wide Stewart Filmscreen display. In seconds the serious and sensible room has transformed into a rockin’ and raucous state-of-the-art theater.
“You’d never suspect that the area has a theater in it,” says Robert Eitel, owner of Roberts Home Audio and Video in Los Angeles. “The homeowners desired the room to look and function like a library,” which meant all of the equipment had to be completely hidden.
One of the most common ways to conceal speakers is to plant them in the wall or ceiling, and most manufacturers offer an assortment of products designed to mount in the drywall between ceiling joists and wall studs. Subwoofers, however, are another story. Due to their big, boxy shapes, they are often too large to squeeze into typical stud bays. To ensure both a good fit and great sound, Roberts contacted speaker manufacturer California Audio Technology (CAT) to build drivers and woofers specifically for the space.
Roberts also provided CAT with a sample of the rich cherry wood used throughout the library. From this CAT was able to design wooden speaker grilles to match. “Conventional black acoustical fabric is a telltale sign that there’s a speaker behind the wall,” says Eitel. “The custom wood grilles come across as an architectural detail.”
Similar imagination and care was required to conceal the screen. The visual centerpiece of the room, a 12-by-12-foot heirloom tapestry, was attached to a motorized mechanism designed to lift it away from the screen during the conversion from library to home theater. No conventional motor would suffice, though. “Most motors are designed to roll up material,” says Eitel. “Eventually this would have ruined the weave of the tapestry, so we designed a lift that moves the fabric straight up and down.” In addition to constructing a lifting mechanism, Roberts and the builder carved out a channel behind the wall through which the tapestry could travel without snagging, and they built a protective housing in the attic for the tapestry to sit inside when the library is in theater mode.
“We didn’t have to modify anything structurally in the room to hide the equipment,” says Eitel. Although custom speakers and lifts are more expensive than off-the-shelf varieties, they enable any room—no matter its size, shape or architecture—to function as a high-end theater without ever sacrificing its visual appeal or decorative elements.
The CAT’s Meow
Fitting a square peg into a round hole is what the engineers and designers at CAT do best. The California-based company builds speakers to spec—and often based on challenging room parameters. The company can make speakers super-skinny to fit into tight quarters or with special insulating materials to prevent sound from bleeding into other rooms. If the speakers will be left in the open, special finishes, colors and fabrics can be applied to turn them into visual showpieces. In addition, CAT’s engineers will travel to projects to make sure the speakers are properly calibrated and positioned to provide the best listening experience possible. Expect to pay around a 10 percent upcharge for this onsite engineering service, according to Eitel
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.